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Grumpy Old Fan | DC’s December: New homes for the holidays

Required reading

Required reading

DC Entertainment may not have planned it this way — “planning” being something with which DC may be only tangentially familiar — but I doubt its high-ups wanted to release these December solicitations the Monday after what had to be a pretty rough weekend.  When you’ve just had to deal with a celebrated creative team walking off a fairly successful book — citing “editorial interference,” and reminding people that the character’s original writer also left after increasing frustration with DC — you might not want to follow that up by calling attention to all the other changes coming before the end of the year.

And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Batwoman and “sucky personal life” talk before we’re done. Solicits first, though …

FOREVER MODEST

If the first week of Villains Month is any indication, a good bit of the decimal-point issues will feature stories set in the early stages of the Crime Syndicate’s takeover. This wasn’t that apparent from the September solicits, and subsequent months also appeared light on explicit crossovers. December is about the same, with Teen Titans dropping out of the crossover lineup, and Pandora and Phantom Stranger joining the three Justice League books, the three Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries, and Suicide Squad.

Naturally, the solicits offer some clues to the story itself. “March through darkness,” blah blah blah, Wonder Woman’s lasso may rescue the Justice League, yadda yadda yadda, Vandal Savage wants revenge, etc. It’s not really news to note that Batman survived the Syndicate’s assault — presumably, all the marketable Leaguers survived — but here I will go out on a limb and say that this Batman is really Dick Grayson, donning the pointy-eared cowl (Once again? Who can say?) now that his Nightwing identity is useless. Hey, Geoff Johns played around with Batman’s identity in another “world in the toilet” crossover, and that turned out to be a highlight.

WHITHER GEOFF JOHNS?

And speaking of DC’s chief creative officer, he’s down to two credits in these solicitations: the main Forever Evil miniseries, and Justice League. It wasn’t too long ago that he was also writing Aquaman and Justice League of America and helping out on Vibe, and before that he was wrapping up a significant run on Green Lantern. I haven’t liked everything Johns has written, and so far I’m not a fan of Forever Evil. Still, when he’s good (as he was for a long time on GL), he’s pretty darn good, and he does have a genuine evangelical enthusiasm and affection for these characters and their histories.

Anyway, Matt Kindt is solicited as the writer of Justice League of America from October through December, and Jeff Lemire will be the book’s writer once it moves north of the border. Jeff Parker (!) is your new Aquaman writer, which is pretty cool, because I was a huuuge fan of Agents of Atlas and am a huuuge fan of Batman ‘66.

Obviously I am not complaining about either of those moves; but at the same time I’d hate to see Johns leave behind the comics side of DC Entertainment. Strange as it sounds, I have a feeling he may be one of the few “traditionalists” left in any position of actual power.

AND ABOUT THOSE OTHER MOVES …

Because DC dumped original artist Kevin Maguire at the last minute, Justice League 3000 #1 has been resolicited for December, this time with, one hopes, more-permanent artist Howard Porter. I may be among the few people who didn’t mind Porter’s pencils on Grant Morrison’s JLA scripts — I thought they were quirky enough to complement what Morrison was trying to do — so I’m still looking forward to this series, just not as much as I was with Maguire penciling.

Christos N. Gage and Neil Googe write and draw a fill-in issue while DC readies a new creative team for The Flash. At least the outgoing creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato will apparently get to finish their story on their own terms, but boy will they be a hard act to follow. (Yes, even if Geoff Johns comes back to the character.) Manapul and Buccellato’s keen sense of storytelling married design with narrative in a way that made Flash one of the New 52′s most distinctive series — perhaps second only to, ahem, Batwoman.

Supergirl and Superboy also get a new creative teams in December. Frank Hannah and Marv Wolfman are the Boy of Steel’s new co-writers, with Andres Guinaldo drawing; and Tony Bedard and Yildray Cinar are the new Supergirl writer and penciler. The Supergirl creative-team change seems more significant to me, not just because Superboy left behind its original creative team (writer Scott Lobdell and penciller R.B. Silva) a while back. Supergirl started out as a fairly unconventional take on Kara Zor-El, eschewing the “innocent younger cousin” angle for a more cynical stranger-in-a-strange-land perspective. The December solicitation’s promise of “a new mission and a clearer understanding of her place in the universe” sounds somewhat ominous in that respect, like DC is taking advantage of the opportunity to make her a little less complicated. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but it seems like there’s a lot of that going around.

If Jason Fabok has to leave Detective Comics, I am glad to see Aaron Lopresti come aboard. His work is a little bright and superhero-y, but every now and then a Batman book needs some of that. Same goes for Cully Hamner drawing December’s Animal Man (although that looks more like a fill-in issue).

ODDS AND ENDS

I haven’t been reading Green Arrow, but a storyline called “The Outsiders War” makes me wonder if the post-Forever Evil Justice League reorganization won’t include a new Outsiders team. Green Arrow and Katana would be ex-JLAers, Black Lightning had that co-starring run with Blue Devil in DC Universe Presents, and I’m sure DC could come up with some ironic, post-modern take on Halo and an Aquaman-like “everyone hates Geo-Force” storyline.

The solicit for Superman/Wonder Woman #3 threatens “the end of Superman and Wonder Woman together!” Oh, DC, that’s sweet of you, but I know you don’t really mean it.

With Astro City #7 focusing on the “trinity” of Winged Victory, Samaritan and the Confessor, I can’t help but wonder whether writer Kurt Busiek was originally going to use the idea somewhere else.

DIGITAL

Injustice: Gods Among Us and Smallville Season 11 both enter “new phases” in December. Injustice appears to be going on hiatus, while Smallville is becoming a series of miniseries. The Smallville move may be merely a cosmetic format change, and I don’t know how much more Injustice has to do to set up its “parent” video game; but both moves may end up making the series more collection-friendly. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of DC’s digital-first series eventually skipped the monthly-hard-copy phase entirely, and went straight from download to print collection.

COLLECTIONS

The third Green Lantern: Sector 2814 collection isn’t just one of the better GL arcs, it’s also one of the better Crisis On Infinite Earths companion storylines. While it weaves in and out of the events of Crisis, it explains where the Green Lantern Corps was during the seminal maxi-series, and it fills in some background on the Guardians’ relationship to the Monitors and the Anti-Matter Universe. It also features some pretty dramatic moments (to that point, at least) in the series’ mythology. If you’ve read the third Tales of the Green Lantern Corps paperback, which collects the issues immediately after Sector 2814 Vol. 3, you can guess what those are; but if not, you’re in for a treat.

Now that DC is embracing the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show again, a collection like Batman ‘66: The TV Stories seems only natural. I wouldn’t call these “so bad they’re good” comics, but since the show tried to adapt them pretty faithfully, in order to present them as comedy, it is a little hard to parse the level of mockery. Regardless, this is probably a decent collection of non-grim Batman stories, and hey, they entertained at least one TV producer….

In ‘80s-reprint news, DC is collecting Matt Wagner’s Demon miniseries, and is offering Vol. 8 of the John Byrne-led Superman relaunch. I’ve never read Wagner’s miniseries, but from what I understand it’s always been sort of an outlier where Demon lore is concerned. It was published after Alan Moore’s take on the character from Swamp Thing, but it didn’t follow Moore’s lead. As for the latest Man of Steel collection, frankly I’m surprised it’s gotten this far. If the goal is to reprint the Byrne issues, there should only be one more collection, because he left with Superman #22 and this goes through Issue 18. I wouldn’t mind if it went further, although if DC started reprinting the Action Comics Weekly stories, I’d wonder who beyond me was the target audience.

Speaking of target audiences, I heartily endorse Superman Family Adventures and will be waiting eagerly for Volume 2. My five-year-old daughter can’t get enough of Vol. 1. If DC Collectibles ever wanted to make a plush Fuzzy the Krypto Mouse, I know one family which would give it a very happy home.

FOREVER EEYORE

It began in earnest late last week, when Batwoman’s J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced they were leaving the book due to editorial interference.  Because said interference involved the marriage of Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, DC was quick to clarify that it didn’t have an anti-gay-marriage position. Instead, as Co-Publisher Dan DiDio explained at the Baltimore Comic-Con, DC didn’t want them getting married because its Bat-characters shouldn’t have happy personal lives. This is sort of like Homer Simpson explaining he wasn’t buying beer, he was buying pornography, but everyone seems to agree on that detail. Besides, it re-focused attention on various other DC characters who had seen their own marriages undone by the New 52 relaunch.

For his part, DiDio was emphatic in his support for Batwoman as both a gay character and a valued part of the Batman family. Here’s what he said (starting at about 1:27):

And when we went out with the New 52, and even before the New 52, we had one very clear idea in [our] minds with the Batman group: they shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They shouldn’t. They put on a cape and a cowl for a reason. They’re committed to being that person. They’re committed to defending others at the sacrifice of all their own personal interests, instincts. And for me, that’s a very important statement to make. And that’s something we reinforce, because if you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kinda suck. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson [...], Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as equally important that they put them aside because they know what they’re accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters. We reinforce this with every single one of our books, with every single one of our writers. You want to know what editors do? That’s their job. I stand behind that 100 percent, I stand behind our choices 100 percent, and I stand behind Batwoman and Kathy Kane 100 percent. Name one other publisher that committed to a character with that kind of [passion] out there. Name one! There isn’t.

Now, while DiDio was talking specifically about Batwoman and the Bat-group, the reference to “every single one of our books [and] writers” could easily be taken as a blanket statement for the superhero line generally. That would be understandable, particularly in light of all those newly-single characters, and the general tone of DC superhero comics these days. I personally am not convinced that DiDio meant to be that broad — and believe me, I have a lot of material ready to go if he ever does get direct about wanting the whole superhero line to be super-grim — but I’m not ready to say this attitude stops with the Bat-books.

As for one of those books, though, Batgirl writer Gail Simone remarked on her blog that:

Batgirl was ALWAYS going to have a hard slog at first, [since] part of the concept was that things shouldn’t suddenly be rainbows and light just because she’s younger and back in the cowl.

But yes, I absolutely want to show her happier side and very soon. Should have happened by now.

(At this point I wonder if wanting to “show her happier side” was what prompted DC to fire Simone in December. That episode convinced me that DC wouldn’t risk anything so drastic with her a second time; but I suppose it’s never good to underestimate DC’s capacity for risky behavior.)

Indeed, I would argue that what distinguishes most of the Bat-family from the Darknight Detective is that they’re not Bruce Wayne. Sure, they’ve each endured tragedies, but they each tend to deal with those tragedies in more well-adjusted ways. Exhibit A is Dick Grayson (who Dan DiDio wanted to kill off back in 2006, and who’s not looking so good these days), orphaned at a fairly young age but evidently raised in such a way as to have a relatively cheerier attitude. Moreover, neither Barbara Gordon nor Tim Drake were originally driven by personal losses; but each was inspired by Batman and Robin, as was The Dark Knight Returns’ Carrie Kelley (whose unseen parents apparently led happy lives as aimless stoners).

And on one level, who wouldn’t be inspired? It’s fun to be Batman! It’s fun to imagine living in a huge mansion (or a swanky penthouse) that not only overlooks an anything-goes city, but comes with its own subterranean lair full of high-tech gizmos and vehicles. It’s fun to imagine leaping out into the night sky, summoned by that mile-wide symbol lighting up the ever-present cloud cover, and scaring the poo out of everyone from muggers to super-criminals. Grant Morrison made just this observation, especially when Dick could play off Damian’s no-nonsense attitude.

It’s just not fun to be Bruce Wayne … which is the rule DiDio apparently wants to reinforce with all the Bat-folk, if not the superhero line generally.

Look, I understand DiDio’s point. In a world which has become ever more mindful of its police, firefighters, and military personnel, superheroes serve an awfully similar function. DC’s superheroes have a long history of being “married to the job,” even if that was mostly a convenient excuse for keeping characters’ romances (or lack thereof) unchanged. However, there’s an equally-long escapist tradition, especially at DC. Superman and Wonder Woman were each conceived as inspirational figures. The Flash and Green Lantern each spoke to simple, primal power fantasies (super-speed! magic rings!). Even crosstown rival Spider-Man, historically the saddest sack of the spandex set, was often Peter Parker’s emotional release.

And yes, with great X must also come great Y. I get that. Nevertheless, too many reminders of the real world may well make our fantasy worlds a lot less desirable. It may comfort readers, may help “legitimize” their chosen hobby, or may make suspending disbelief easier if DC’s shared universe is just as crappy — if not more so — than our own Earth-Prime; but is that really what we want? Don’t we want Gotham to be a city-sized haunted house, and Metropolis to be the ultimate urban destination? Don’t we want to imagine satellite headquarters orbiting overhead and lost civilizations in the middle of the oceans? Isn’t it better to create places we genuinely want to visit, and characters for whom we can actually feel good? Wouldn’t subsequent nihilistic storylines hurt that much more, knowing what was at stake?

DC’s high sheriffs may think that the road to creative and financial success leads through the darkest part of the woods, but it’s also a lot easier to get lost in there. Batwoman, Flash and Supergirl (among others) each began the New 52 with idiosyncratic approaches guided by distinct creative voices. As the New 52 ages, those voices are being replaced. There are still some creative teams who have been with their books since the relaunch (including Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on Batman, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang et al. on Wonder Woman, and Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Moritat on All Star Western), and some series have benefitted from their creative changes.

However, the more turnover there is, the greater the possibility that DC will merely replace those distinctive voices with ones more comfortable with company policy. I’m not saying that to judge anyone in particular, just that given DC’s history, it’s certainly not out of the question. DC was built not on the ideas of a small bullpen, but on the disparate contributions of many unique creators. Attempts to homogenize its shared universe neither honor those creators nor advance their creations — and making a group of them uniformly mopey is a bad idea, even if it’s just the Bat-clan.

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Comments

9 Comments

Nobody has said anything about making anyone uniformly mopey, and I think you’re extrapolating a bit, though not as far as the people claiming that DC wants all it’s characters to be grim and gritty. If you look back at the history of the personal lives of the Bat-family characters, it’s very obvious that none of them have ever gotten to live happily ever after, and in fact tragedy has been commonplace. 20 years ago, Dick Grayson’s wedding with Starfire was interrupted by an evil Raven, the relationship never recovered, and it’s been short-term dalliances for him ever since. Tim Drake’s had at least two girlfriends die on him. The fact that their personal lives are disasters hasn’t necessarily changed the attitudes of those characters, at least not long term. It seems to me that Didio was just reiterating, and setting as policy, the tone that previous creators have already set for this family of characters. In fact, circumventing Batwoman’s marriage entirely prevents DC from killing Maggie Sawyer, a long-established but never vitally important supporting player in the DC universe, when some future writer or editor inevitably decides that Batwoman is better off single.

Back before “The Killing Joke”, somebody at DC (admittedly someone who’s probably gone now) made a remark about Batgirl being difficult to fit into the working of things because she was more of “weekend crime-fighter”. My immediate thought was that there was nothing wrong with that, and that in fact it made a great contrast with Batman himself.

Even under the constraints she’s dealing with, I’m enjoying what Gail is doing with Barbara over all. Imagine what she could do if she wasn’t required to make Batgirl into another Batman-lite.

Yes, they’ve gone through an unbelievable amount of tragedies in the past, but that’s no reason to cut them off from happy personal lives completely. I loved Dixon’s run on Nightwing, when Dick was balancing his life as a cop with being a vigilante. He was happy then – if not a little stressed from taking on so much work – and I loved watching his upbeat interactions, balanced with the dark and gritty from his nightly pursuits. Dixon’s writing is regarded as the height of Nightwing’s career, which only goes to show that genuine storytelling is the way to go. I don’t want to read my favorite character suffering endlessly. How can I cheer for him when I know he’s never going to attain anything? Having a blanket policy for several vastly different characters is ridiculous. I can’t wait until I can wave goodbye to Dan DiDio.

“DC’s high sheriffs may think that the road to creative and financial success leads through the darkest part of the woods, but it’s also a lot easier to get lost in there.”

Seems to me like said high sheriffs have been lost in those woods for quite some time (maybe since 2008?). I blame the Peter and Dilbert principles. I’m sorry, but the execs in charge (those above Johns, DiDio, and Lee) should be replaced–by force, if necessary. DiDio, Johns, and Lee should be put back in their original creative positions; all that power’s gone to their heads.

Another cynical musing: with the way modern superhero tales are faring these days, why don’t they just give up and stop producing the comics anyway? Let all the established characters be used for merchandising, where according to a wise little creature called Yogurt, “the real money from the movie [or in this case, the character(s)] is made”. Just look in your average Target, Hot Topic, or the like–Superman, the t-shirt; Justice League, the coloring book; Wonder Woman, the lunch box; Batman, the fruit snacks; Green Lantern, the missile-firing light-up power glove; last but not least, DC Superheroes, the action figures.

Face it, folks–our favorite heroes and villains, as of the past five years, no matter what fan-favorite creative team has done with them, have become that which is best embodied by a familiar face from “The Simpsons” in the form of Krusty the Klown: SELL-OUTS. And I for one, HATE sell-outs.

Quite frankly, I want my superheroes to look like they’re having fun. I want to believe it would be fun to be a Green Lantern, to be Flash, to be Robin, to be Superman. Certainly the charm and charisma and Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth come through, in part, on the screen, as joy and exultation in being Iron Man, being Thor, even in being “too rich for to have to worry that I’m being a jerk” Tony Stark. heck, even with all the terrible stuff piled on Batman in the Nolan movies, it still looked like Bruce Wayne enjoyed some of the things he did as Batman.

So I’d like them to smile. I’d like Batman to not just care about Robin’s welfare, but to be his friend. I’m perfectly happy with Batgirl as weekend crimefighter, Batwoman as married and that marriage (as typical or atypical as it is) being shown as a positive motivator, the slice of society she fights to protect and defend. I like Mister Miracle risking life and limb because he loves adventure, and laughing in the face of danger. I’d like Booster Gold to have a buddy with whom he shares shenanigans (and for some us, DC’s left turn into darkness began with Ted Kord dying). Over at Marvel, I loved seeing the Incredible Hercules and Amadeus Cho pursue their goals with a smile, enjoying life despite the setbacks. Even Ben Grimm’s mopeyness is offset by his love of TV, food, poker, friends and family.

Darkness for the sake of darkness doesn’t make for good, lasting narratives. You can look back decades ago to when John Stewart’s wife Katma Tui was killed, and I’ll tell you a thought it was a bad move. A cheap disposal of a character they didn’t know what to do with (denying the possibility that some future writer might do something brilliant with her) and piling some sorrow on John Stewart in an attempt to reinvigorate him. Then a failure to save a planet, being hunted by the sole survivor, killing fellow GLs. A litany of mostly uninspiring storytelling choices around a character who’s rarely been allowed to enjoy success.

Let the heroes have their successes and enjoy them, and enjoy it.

I assume what DiDio means is that, like almost every other super hero, no one in the Bat family gets to lead a comfortable, (relatively) static family life. I always tell my wife the super hero comic books are soap operas for boys (ladies welcome); ultimately, giving your character a happy marriage just shuts too many doors. I think DiDio oversold his case, but maybe he meant it, in which case it’s a good thing I don’t read any Bat books (although I’ll try Andreyko’s BW).

Ive seen ppl reference Tim Drake as a character that had a good home life and was happy and normal. His mother was killed,his father in a coma and confined to a wheelchair for a time.He was constantly lying to his father about his whereabouts. Was investigated by child services because of bruises he sustained while fighting crime. Alienated a great number of friends and girl friends. His was extremely tough but it made for good reading. Also it lasted for almost 200 issues so ppl must have enjoyed watching Tims struggles and him attempting to overcome them.

The New 52 is what happens when “Story” by Robert McKee becomes your creative blueprint. “Story” is a 1,000 watt solar-powered LED spotlight in a world of torches. It illuminates all the amazing tools used throughout history and challenges you to use them in ways you never imagined. But so many executives and writers can’t stop staring at the light and see what it has illuminated around them.
Guess what happens when you build up your hero and everything goes right for her? When it goes wrong, the drama increases. If Batwoman is miserable all the time, who cares? If every character in the Bat universe needs to sit in a dark room and stare at nothing because of their grittiness and anguish, who cares?
Mike T brings up a great point about Tim Drake – we all admired Tim’s resolve in attempting to overcome his struggles. But his struggles were organic and his struggles made sense. The flip side of Tim Drake is Bruce Wayne in “Hush.” All of the sudden Bruce has a BFF in Tommy Elliot, but it’s so forced that you see the betrayal coming in issue 1 of the storyline. Same thing with Jezebel Jet in “Batman RIP,” you could see her betrayal a mile away because she was so forced.

@ tada

Actually, JJet was introduced at like the beginning of Morrison’s run, and she was set-up as a romantic interest that early. There’s a lot of small bits that tease her ultimate betrayal, but they’re small things you wouldn’t pick up on if you were following Morrison’t run from the beginning. And even if you started with RIP, they very much imply that she’s been around with Bruce for at least a little while, so her being the romantic interest from the beginning of that story shouldn’t be a tip off either. Maybe some people saw the name Jezebel and just immediately assumed betrayal was coming, but otherwise she was both organically introduced to the Bat-mythos and I’d say her ultimate betrayal was only telegraphed in the subtlest of ways.

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